In case you need another reason to love chocolate: Flavonoid-rich cocoa supplements may be linked to improvements in heart health, mobility and overall quality of life for people over the age of 55, according to a new study published in The Journals of Gerontology: Series A.
In the study, researchers from Mexico and the USA said that flavonoids in cocoa may be key to addressing age-related decline in mass, strength and skeletal muscle performance.
Flavonoids are naturally occurring biological pigments that include anthocyanins and anthoxanthins. Flavonoids, as shown in various studies, have antioxidant, anti-allergic, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral properties.
To test this, the researchers conducted a two-phase, randomized, double-blind, clinical trial, the first part of which saw 60 subjects ranging in age from 55 to 70 years, randomly put into different groups: one group was asked to consume one cup of a flavonoid-rich natural cocoa drink; the second group was given a highly alkalinized, no-flavonoid cocoa drink; while the last group consumed a placebo. The groups were told to consume the beverages once a day for up to 12 weeks.
According to the researchers, the group that consumed the flavonoid-rich cocoa drink showed improved glycemia, triglyceridemia, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, triglyceridemia/HDL index and oxidative markers, as well as improved performance in the Up and Go test and skeletal muscle index. The researchers also noted an improvement in the group’s quality of life.
The researchers followed this by getting another set of participants, this time aged 65 to 90, and again randomly distributed into two groups. Similar to the first batch, the second group of participants were instructed to consume either a flavonoid-rich drink or its no-flavonoid equivalent, once a day for 12 weeks.
Similar to the first test, the participants who consumed the flavonoid-rich drink were found to have significant improvements in their metabolic, oxidative stress and inflammatory endpoints. The researchers also noted positive effects on their physical performance, frailty indicators and quality of life, compared to those who consumed the placebo.
According to researcher Guillermo Ceballos of Instituto Politecnico Nacional in Mexico, the results of the study, while “provocative,” still opens up new possibilities in the management of aging-induced sarcopenia, decline in physical performance and frailty. In their study, Ceballos and his colleagues recommend validating the results via large clinical trials.
The results of the study complement earlier research into the effects of cocoa flavonoids, most of which deal with their positive effects on cardiovascular health and cognitive performance. (Related: Seven reasons eating dark chocolate supports healthy living.)
One such research item, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that flavonoids in cocoa could reduce age-related cognitive dysfunction in elderly subjects, possibly through an improvement in insulin sensitivity.
Those looking to increase their cocoa flavonoid intake, according to Harvard Medical School’s Heidi Goodman, should consider getting natural and organic cocoa powder and chocolate bars that have not been alkalized or processed through the Dutch method, since that strips cocoa of its flavonoids. Goodman warns, however, that such types of cocoa and chocolate products will be bitter.
Despite the benefits one gets from cocoa flavonoids however, experts say it’s best to consume cocoa and chocolate in moderation, noting that while studies have shown that middle-aged adults who consumed up to 3.5 ounces of chocolate per day had a lower rate of heart disease, one still has to factor in the amount of fat and sugar present in it.